Can an insider succeed at changing Wells Fargo’s culture?
That’s the question hanging over new CEO Tim Sloan, a 29-year veteran of the company who previously served as COO and CFO. Sloan paid a visit to Fortune yesterday, in the early stages of his campaign to rebuild the badly battered reputation of the bank. He said he received the same advice from a number of business mentors before taking the job: “You’ve got to make sure you are ready for it, because it is not going to be easy.”
That may be an understatement. The bank is hemorrhaging customers, and Washington is out for blood. Hillary Clinton said Wells Fargo is part of the “rigged system” that is crushing the middle class; Elizabeth Warren wants Sloan to answer: what did he know, and when did he know it?
In a speech to his employees two days ago, Sloan reviewed steps the company is taking to address the problem, but acknowledged the scandal won’t end quickly. “This work to restore trust in Wells Fargo is going to play out over a long period of time – weeks, months, maybe years. So let’s be patient and strong. Let’s demonstrate perseverance.”
In addition to perseverance, the company also is engaging independent “culture experts” to “help us understand where we have cultural weaknesses that need to be strengthened or fixed. We know we don’t have all the answers and want to have the courage to learn from others.”
I suggested Sloan reach out to GM CEO Mary Barra, another company lifer who faced an ignition scandal when she became CEO, and rejected the advice of colleagues who told her to persevere until the company got over it. I don’t want to get over it, she replied. “I don’t want to set it aside and explain it,” she said to Fortune’s Geoff Colvin in 2014, “because I think it has uncovered some things in our company that it’s critical we challenge ourselves to change and to fix.”